The Johnston Junior League all-stars returned to Rhode Island on Sunday morning, worn-out, tired and surely ready for a night in their own beds.
But they’ve already had the sweet dreams.
Johnston’s incredible summer came to a close last week at the Junior League World Series in Taylor, Mich. The team just missed out on a spot in the United States championship, settling instead for a third-place finish in pool play.
Though that ending was different than what they hoped for, the experience was everything they wanted – and more.
“In two words – fairy tale,” said manager Ed Bedrosian. “That’s what we kept saying and we were hoping we wouldn’t wake up. It was pretty amazing.”
Johnston took care of business in its final pool-play game last Wednesday, beating the team from Rosenberg, Texas by a 3-1 score. Larry Dureault was impressive on the mound for Johnston, allowing just one run on six hits in six innings of work. James Picchi pitched a scoreless seventh for the save. Joe Bongiovanni and Jake Coro each had an RBI, while Gian Martellini had two hits.
Unfortunately for Johnston, that strong finish didn’t guarantee anything. Florida had already clinched one spot in the U.S. championship game. At 2-2, Johnston was in the mix for the other one, but on Thursday, the West Region champ from Tucson, Ariz., beat Ohio to finish at 3-1 and clinch the other spot.
“We were one game away,” Bedrosian said.
The Florida team, which hailed from Tampa, went on to win the World Series championship, beating Arizona 4-0 and Chinese Taipei 2-1.
Johnston had played Florida in pool play and lost 13-3, but it was a 2-2 game into the fifth inning.
“We had one bad inning,” Bedrosian said. “If we didn’t, we would have been right there. Florida was definitely the best team and they deserved to win, but we were playing with them.”
Bedrosian said tournament organizers were impressed with the quality of play and the parity among the teams.
Johnston certainly made its mark. Its only losses came against the two teams that advanced out of pool play. Martellini led all the players in the tournament with a .667 average.
Johnston was the first Rhode Island team to ever make the World Series.
“We were well-respected out there,” Bedrosian said. “People loved seeing a team from Rhode Island doing well.”
And Johnston kept doing well even when its official tourney run was over. The team played a consolation game against the team from Canada and came away with a victory.
“It was a consolation game and some teams weren’t too hyped up about it, but we said, ‘We’re here and we want to win,’” Bedrosian said. “To win our last two games was a great feeling.”
Even though it wasn’t a championship win, a victory was a fitting ending to a remarkable summer.
“This wasn’t the most talented team, but every time we needed a big hit or good pitching, it happened,” Bedrosian said. “It was a real team effort. Everybody made mistakes but everybody came up big, too.”
The team started the summer with high expectations, hoping to make a return trip to regionals. It had lost in the regional finals in 2010.
Bedrosian divided his team’s goals into three phases – win districts, win states and win the regional. Those were lofty goals and when the team started practicing, Bedrosian had to wonder if they might be too lofty.
“I knew we had a good team, but from day one, I never thought this was the team that would go to a World Series,” Bedrosian said. “I think last year’s team was probably more talented, but these guys just kept coming up big.”
Johnston breezed through the district tournament, winning two straight to get through the winners’ bracket and beating Edgewood/South Elmwood for the title.
It was the same story at states, where Johnston rolled through the bracket and beat East Greenwich for the championship.
At the regionals in Freehold, N.J., Johnston started writing its fairy tale in earnest. After a loss in its second game, Johnston fought all the way back, winning three elimination games in two days for a chance at the championship. Johnston still had to beat Pennsylvania twice, though.
It happened in storybook fashion. On the morning of August 11, Johnston fought through a back-and-forth game, tied it late on a key hit by Marc Conte and won it on a walk-off home run by Martellini.
“Marc had the huge hit and Gian came through,” Bedrosian said. “It sounds crazy, but when he came up, I just knew he was going to hit a home run.”
The rest was history.
“Once we won that game, you could just feel the emotion,” Bedrosian said. “We put up 10 in the first and that was it.”
Johnston went on to an 18-7 victory to clinch the championship, completing an amazing run. It included five wins in three days.
That magic didn’t last all the way through the World Series, and Johnston couldn’t finish its summer with the ultimate championship.
But it didn’t much matter. The Johnston stars had a strong showing at their first World Series – and they’ll remember their summer forever.
“It was a great experience for everybody,” Bedrosian said. “They had a ball. It was just a great ride.”